Chance or No Chance
The same Arguments which explode the Notion of Luck, may, on the other side, be useful in some Cases to establish a due comparison between Chance and Design: We may imagine Chance and Design to be, as it were, in Competition with each other, for the production of some sorts of Events, and may calculate what Probability there is, that those Events should be rather owing to one than to the other.
– Abraham de Moivre, Doctrine of Chances, 1718
The greatest harm done to man by men is not the horror of war, nor the grim specter of racial and tribal hatred, nor even the common casual way we disregard our neighbor; rather it is the claim made with a certitude that belies its impotency: that everything that is – is only by chance.
Chance called forth the universe, Chance created life, Chance created man.
Chance, that great imposter, strides like a mighty Colossus across the river of history ordaining everything while obtaining nothing. Building, designing, creating without hands or mind. All hail great Chance – the God who is not there.
Nothing quite defines the postmodern mind as this irrational belief in Chance. And nothing quite defines the classic mind as the confident expression of purpose. The pre-modern man and woman felt in their souls, hoped in their hearts, and believed fervently in the purposefulness they saw everywhere and in everything.
The great German philosopher Emmanuel Kant commenting on the teleological argument for the existence of God wrote: ‘This present world presents to us so immeasurable a stage of variety, order, fitness, and beauty, whether we follow it up in the infinity of space or in its unlimited division, that even with the little knowledge which our poor understanding has been able to gather, all language, with regard to so many and inconceivable wonders, loses its vigor, all numbers their power of measuring, and all our thoughts their necessary determination; so that our judgment of the whole is lost in a speechless, but all the more eloquent astonishment … this knowledge … increases the belief in a supreme Author to an irresistible conviction.’
This eloquent prose fitly sums up the beliefs and convictions of most people, both the educated elite and the working masses, living prior to the mid twentieth century. Yet in a strange cosmic irony Kant himself did not accept this conviction and in fact argued against this proof of God and in so doing made his own contribution to the deification of Chance.
But let us go back to the beginning, when chance was just a game and not a god, and see if we can see how we got to here from there.
We all love a good story – whether in book or film – the story carries the day. A story’s power lies in its ability to summon themes and ideas that intrigue and inspire our minds to see the world not only as it really is but as it really could become.
When men and women first contemplated the fierce light and heat of the sun by day and the vast expanse of the starlit sky by night they were filled with awe and wonder at the mysterious world they found themselves in. From this awe over the terrifying beauty of the unknown came stories imagining what or whom could possibly be responsible for this grand stage and explanations of why we are here and what it all means.
Fantastic stories emerged of gods and goddesses, demons and fairies, animals great and small creating and destroying, carrying the world upon their backs. Other stories conceived of an eternal world that had always existed in one form or another, endlessly making and remaking itself – dying and being reborn with each incarnation different from the last.
But when all the stories have been told we find that in the end there remain only two stories of how life and the cosmos came to be. Both of these stories take the form of creation myths telling the hearers why things are the way they are and why we are here to see them. I do not say myths with any intent to imply that one or the other of these stories is necessarily untrue or that either story is necessarily primitive or ancient, but rather that both speak of things that are past and beyond our powers of direct observation, and both stories shape or reflect how we see ourselves and the great mystery of life. These two powerful and competing stories have grown up together like twin sons of different mothers, each one vying for control of the world and often with fratricide in their hearts.
The first story is all about wisdom and glory, intelligence and destiny and sets its hearers on the never-ending quest for truth, beauty and goodness. This is the story of purpose and the belief that behind everything there is an eternal mind and power that is the source of all being and created and sustains the vastness of the universe for His glory and our benefit. This story tells us that life is full of purpose and meaning and that we are all on a journey towards a nearly unimaginable destiny. Nothing is by accident and everything is designed with us in mind. That which is transcendent holds sway over the immanent. This is essentially the story of God – the Great Spirit – and was the nearly universal conviction of all people from the distant past to the present – a conviction that can only be lost by a lapse into paganism or a leap into the sophistry of naturalistic dogmatism.
Some would say that the most ancient stories are of wood sprites, demons and local gods and only later gradually developed into the idea of a Creator God. But this is not necessarily so. The scholar Mircea Eliade has written: ‘Celestially structured supreme beings tend to disappear from the practice of religion, from cult; they depart from among men, withdraw to the sky, and become remote, inactive gods (dei otiosi). In short, it may be said of these gods that, after creating the cosmos, life, and man, they feel a sort of fatigue, as if the immense enterprise of the creation had exhausted their resources. So they withdraw to the sky, leaving a son or a demiurge on earth to finish or perfect the Creation. Gradually their place is taken by other divine figures – the mythical ancestors, the mother-goddesses, the fecundation gods, and the like.’ As Calvin astutely noted, man is an idol factory suppressing the knowledge we all have of the Creator and consistently turning to the worship of lesser gods.
The second story is about one of these lesser gods. This is the story of Chance and the inexorable power of decay pushing the world mindlessly down into the black hole of entropy. In this story we all sit precariously atop the razor edge of Chance hoping against hope we do not lose our balance and fall pell-mell into oblivion. It is a story full of sound and fury but always ends in signifying nothing. Its modern incarnation is scientific naturalism and is represented by the Darwinian paradigm of biological evolution and suggests that the superior organism is the most successful organism and sees no intrinsic difference between a human being and a cockroach. This earth and all the life on it is little more than a monstrous accident, the bastard child of a chance meeting of energy and matter inexplicably producing life and eventually that great calamity called man.
Those who tell this story and have the strength of their convictions hold to naturalism with no fairy tales attached. They do not imbue the cosmos with a nebulous mind or life force nor invent fables of Gaian and anthropic principles working through evolution to produce purpose out of matter, energy and time. Even Fritjof Capra, an ardent defender of both Darwin and the Gaian hypothesis, has said, ‘I believe that the notion of purpose and intention is a human projection, it is a reflection of a linear human thinking and so, in a subtle way, it is a consequence of an anthropocentric view … and I think we do ourselves a disservice by narrowing our view of creation by assuming purpose and intention.’
The disciples of Chance tell us the universe began with a bang and will end in silence. They admit no purpose in anything and see neither hope nor destiny but only what is. Theirs is the story in which all things, both cause and effect, fashion themselves from the throw of the dice. Human minds impose an artificial order upon the chaos of the universe and call it the cosmos; seeing purpose where there is none, and hope that is not there. As Richard Dawkins summarized in The Blind Watchmaker: ‘biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.’ This is the story of Alice falling down the rabbit hole into a wonderland where nothing is as it seems. It is at its root the story of the death of God and purpose.
But it is not only purpose that follows God to the grave. When God dies so does the transcendent. If God is truly dead, if matter is all there is, then faith, hope and charity are illusions; truth, beauty and goodness mere fantasies; and the very foundation from which our thoughts arise, the Word, logic, our presuppositions of rationality – hang like Dali paintings in the air – trembling, crumbling, then evaporating in our hands. Lost in a universe of meaninglessness we vainly strive for some connection with the eternal, the transcendent, the permanent – that which has value.
In contrast to this the story of purpose and destiny boldly declares that nothing truly ever happens by Chance. In all the affairs of men and women, earth and sky, time and eternity there is a purpose in everything. It envisions a destiny for the universe that transcends the lifeless, cold, dark, and empty shell entropy demands it must eventually and inevitably become. It is the story in the heart of every person who is searching for and seeking out the mind of God in the universe even while those who tell the story of Chance seek to erase God from the minds in the universe.
In his essay on Poems William Wordsworth wrote: ‘If they were not recompensed by perceiving that there are select Spirits for whom it is ordained that their fame shall be in the world an existence like that of Virtue, which owes its being to the struggles it makes, and its vigour to the enemies whom it provokes; a vivacious quality, ever doomed to meet with opposition, and still triumphing over it; and, from the nature of its dominion, incapable of being brought to the sad conclusion of Alexander, when he wept that there were no more worlds for him to conquer’.
Wordsworth is saying that in the pursuit of virtue a person takes on a purpose that grows clearer and brighter the further he proceeds. As C. S. Lewis noted, a bad man is hardly aware of how bad he really is while the better a man becomes the more aware he in turn becomes of how far short of virtue he falls. A person who pursues virtue, that is truth, goodness and beauty, need never worry that one morning he will awake, walk out upon the balcony of his mind, and realize with horror that like Alexander the Great he has no more worlds to conquer and his purpose has been eaten up by his success. When men and women pursue the transcendent they can rejoice that the best always lies before them.
Initially the death of God was hailed as freedom from the stifling confines of sexual morality and liberation from religious superstition but slowly it has dawned on those who celebrate His demise that the temporal world has failed to give lasting meaning to their lives. Since man was created with eternity in his heart, or at the very least with the capacity for understanding eternity coupled with the dismal knowledge of his own inevitable demise, all purpose terminates in his own death, and like the flower that fades, its place remembers it no more.
The atheist who understands this is always a naturalist. Naturalism and atheism are like hand and glove. Atheism was a mostly facile belief before Darwin and Huxley placed Chance upon its throne. Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, the world’s leading Darwinist apologist, admits as much when he notes that Darwin ‘has made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist’. In the postmodern world atheism is built upon this mound of sand called Darwinism and it must be protected at all costs especially the cost of open public discussion of its incredible weaknesses. Darwinism is the ultimate story of Chance. As Nobel Prize-winning chemist Jacques Monod confidently declared: ‘Chance alone is the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, is at the very root of the stupendous edifice of creation.’
Some committed Darwinists familiar with the failings of chance as a mechanism for producing anything other than chaos are searching high and low for a credible alternative to theism while holding onto naturalism.
Thor Heyerdahl, of Kon Tiki fame, recently said, ‘I would like to bring a comment as a biologist. Given the way science is progressing now, we have to take into consideration the fact that evolution is programmed in the genes and I think that to programme evolution from a single cell, to develop into a human being with a brain, I think that would be exceedingly strange if it was not intentional.’ Francis Crick, winner of the Noble prize as co-discoverer of the architecture of the DNA molecule, has seriously proposed directed panspermia as a solution to the fact that there is no known evolutionary scenario that can account for the origin of life and so maintains it had to be seeded from above. And recently deceased Harvard professor Stephen Jay Gould has equally seriously proposed and written extensively of punctuated equilibria, affectionately known as punk eek, as the only possible evolutionary mechanism that can account for the highly advanced and complex structures that make up living things.
Unfortunately for these gentlemen they are grasping at the wind for the vast majority of evolutionary scientists reject out of hand any such attempts to account for the complexity and diversity of life through these contrivances. The more candid scientists admitting that to even acknowledge the need for such mechanisms is to in effect admit the need for a miracle which would spell the death of naturalism and their worldviews.
It seems so sad, a Shakespearean tragedy of sorts, this cult of Chance peopled with those who cling to Darwinism simply because it props up naturalism and naturalism because it props up atheism and atheism because it props up postmodern man in his Quixotic quest to be his own god. With no little irony we find that when man becomes his own god he not only loses his way but he is left with very little worth worshipping.
Since Darwinism is the philosophical foundation for all this folly it deserves a closer look to see what it is, what it is not, and why it fails.
What, after all, are the working components of Darwin’s theory of biological evolution as seen today? They are three: natural selection, mutational advance, and random chance. These three forces, if you will, working together can account not only for the origin of life itself from (presumably) self-organizing chemicals but also for the stupefying diversity and complexity of all living things. And this through the accumulation of minute, favorable changes over eons of time.
It is also important to note what evolution is not. Evolution is not classification. Scientists from the early Greeks, at least, until well before the time of Darwin had worked out classifications of the plant and animal kingdoms. Cosmos, the Greek word for the universe or the world, means order, and the very idea of kingdoms implies a hierarchical order envisioned by the ancients and added to and improved upon by naturalists up to and through Darwin’s time.
Evolution is also not about the age of the earth or universe. This is not a purview of biologists and was established by geologists using advanced dating methods and astronomers using red shift and other means for determining the distance of stars and galaxies. As the Psalmist wrote three thousand years ago: ‘For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.’
Nor is evolution about variation by selection within a species. We have been breeding, selecting and changing animals for a very long time. Today we have Great Danes and Teacup poodles which technically cannot interbreed and so may be considered separate species though no one disputes the fact that they are still dogs. The idea that natural circumstances produce change in species is not original with Darwin either. But before Darwin no one seriously thought this explained how the elephant got its trunk, or the bird its wings – nor even how elephants and birds came to be in the first place.
No, biological evolution is all about change. Specifically change from the uninformed simple to the highly informed complex. In all of our experience this type of change typically requires intelligent input but in the unique and rather bizarre case of evolutionary theory this upward change is accomplished by Chance. The absurdity of this concept stems from the fact that we are also familiar with change in the other direction, the type of change we see all around us all of the time as the world inexorably unwinds, moment by moment. This change is called entropy.
Even a simple Hobbit can understand entropy – This thing all things devours: Birds, beasts, trees, flowers. The second law of thermodynamics – relentless, merciless and absolute. As David Berlinski so aptly put it, ‘Things fall apart. Energy, like talent, tends to squander itself. Liquids go from hot to lukewarm. And so does love. Disorder and despair overwhelm the human enterprise, filling our rooms and our lives with clutter. Decay is unyielding. Things go from bad to worse. And overall, they go only from bad to worse.’
With two notable exceptions. The beginning of the universe and the advancement of life. Strangely and mysteriously the universe exploded out of nothing and life appeared, equally mysteriously, on a lifeless planet. Uphill, against all odds, against all laws, against entropy – life has progressed, filling the earth with information and complexity. In a strange and ironic twist we are told that two opposing forces, evolution and entropy, – one creating, the other destroying – are both the result of Chance. Which clearly begs the question: How?
A second failing of Darwinism is as a scientific theory. For a theory to be useful it should both denote and exclude but what does evolutionary theory exclude? Apparently nothing. The shark, the alligator, the cockroach; unchanged after millions of years of environmental and mutational pressure. In contrast to this we have A. afarensis, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Archaic sapients, and Homo sapiens making, we are told, a smooth transition from ape-like ancestor to modern human. Both held up as perfect examples of adaptation and survival. Here again, Darwinism has its cake and eats it too.
Stephen Jay Gould has asked what he termed an ‘excellent’ question. ‘What good is 5% of an eye?’ Indeed, the evolution of the eye gave Darwin ‘cold shudders.’ He wrote, ‘The belief that an organ so perfect as an eye could have been formed by natural selection is enough to stagger anyone.’ But eyesight is not an organ, it is in fact a sophisticated bio-chem-photo-electrical system compared to which the most complex camera devised by the genius of man looks like a Tinker Toy. Yet these systems are multiplied a thousand times over in the human body alone. Darwin wrote that ‘if it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.’
I think a reasonable person could safely conclude that it has.
To overcome the impossibilities of Chance driven evolution others have introduced mystical Gaian forces evolving mind from matter, imagined quantum fluctuations in the ‘nothingness’ giving birth to an entire universe, or even entertained the idea taken from delayed choice experiments that intelligent observers (that is humans) like an egg hatching a chicken can reach back billions of years and create a just-right universe from our present day observation of it. And all of this to avoid admitting that there is real purpose in the cosmos created by a real God who placed us here, in this small window of time when the earth and our galaxy can sustain us, for the express end that we as spiritual beings may, through our lives and sufferings, grow in virtue until one day we can behold God: the very fountainhead of all truth, beauty, power, wisdom and love – of which this present universe is merely a shadow.
Essay on Purpose
Written by Lord Buckbeak May 18th, 2004
Notes: Chance or No Chance
Abraham de Moivre, cited in The Design Inference by William A. Dembski, 1998
The quote on the teleological argument by Emmanuel Kant is from: R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner and Arthur Lindsley, Classical Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Academie Books – Zondervan, 1984), 124-25.
The quote from Mircea Eliade on remote gods was from: Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and Profane, trans. William R. Trask (New York: Harper and Row, 1957), 122-23. Cited in: Ibid., 54.
The comment from Fritjof Capra is from: Vaclav Havel, A Statement delivered at Forum 2000, Is there purpose in Nature? – How to Navigate Between the Scylla of Mechanism and Charybdis of Teleology (September 4, 1997) – found in the ensuing discussion.
The comment from Thor Heyerdahl is from: Ibid.
The quote from William Wordsworth is from: William Wordsworth, Essay, Supplementary to the Preface to Poems (1815), The Harvard Classics. 1909-14.
Some quotes from Darwin are cited by: David Berlinski, The Deniable Darwin, Commentary magazine, June 1996, 19-29. I am indebted to Dr. Berlinski for the ideas presented in his essay and the subsequent response he made in answer to his critics. Dr. Berlinski makes ample use of Darwin on Trial by Phillip E. Johnson, ideas from which I also draw heavily for my critique of Darwinism as it is understood today.
The quote from Jacques Monod: Ibid.
The quote from David Berlinski, Ibid.
The quotes from Richard Dawkins, Ibid.
The quote from Stephen Jay Gould, Ibid.
Other quotes from Darwin are cited by: Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial, (Washington D.C., Regnery Gateway, 1991).